Gov. Jerry Brown and federal officials announced Wednesday plans for a future water delivery system that includes the construction of a $14 billion pair of tunnels that would divert water from the Sacramento River.
The side-by-side underground tunnels, 33 feet in diameter, would run beneath the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta and carry water 35 miles to pumps near Tracy to be distributed for human consumption and agribusiness outside of the immediate Delta area.
The joint state and federal project has set 2017 as the start of construction.
On Wednesday, Brown and U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced a "proposed path forward" for the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, which has been in the works since 2006. The tunnels, which have been compared to the Peripheral Canal proposal shot down by voters in 1982, are the centerpiece of that plan.
The project announcement outlined plans for conveyance facilities on the Sacramento River, south of Sacramento in the North Delta. The facilities would be able to intake up to 9,000 cubic feet of water per second.
The project also would stop the reversal of water flow caused by the existing large pumps in the southern Delta, which Salazar called "fish-killing pumps."
The governor also recognized the seismic benefits of a new system that would sustain water supply in an earthquake.
A number of state and federal elected officials, along with fishermen and conservationists, have come out against the plan.
U.S. Rep. John Garamendi, D-Fairfield, rallied at the state Capitol to urge the governor to preserve the Delta with a focus on water storage, recycling, conservation, levee repairs and habitat restoration.
Congressional representatives who have expressed concern about the plan include Reps. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena; George Miller, D-Martinez; Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento; Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton; Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; and Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo/San Francisco.
At a news conference in Washington, D.C., following Brown's announcement, Speier and the coalition of Northern California representatives called for modification of the plan, which would be implemented over the next 50 years.
"I concur with my colleagues to go back to the drawing board," Speier said. "In this case, Northern Californians are the losers."
The representatives claim Brown's administration is leaving the policy and scientific studies about the Delta for the future while pushing ahead with the tunnels.
Garamendi said today that the plan would essentially suck the Sacramento River dry and that the project amounts to "a plumbing system for the Delta."
Instead, Garamendi said, the Delta needs protection, especially for its salmon and other aquatic species, water flows for the Contra Costa Water District, part of Garamendi's district, and agricultural cities in the immediate area.
"We've made progress but it's not where it needs to be yet," he said about the proposal.
Environmentalists, farmers and fisherman working with Restore the Delta, the Sierra Club and other groups have blasted the governor's proposal, labeling it a "scheme" that would benefit the Westlands Water District, which supplies agricultural water to Fresno and Kings counties.
Members from the Western Growers, which represents local and regional family farmers in Arizona and California, have expressed support for Brown's plan for the Delta, calling it "an important milestone that would have remained elusive without this leadership and focus."
However, they noted that "many critical questions" remain, including concerns about who will shoulder the cost of a new conveyance system, and the ecosystem benefits of the project.